Throughout his years around the mat, Mock has learned what he believes are lessons essential to winning. When Mock became a coach, he compiled those lessons onto four pages and gave each incoming wrestler a copy. They start with one understanding.
I am my own greatest opponent.
Mock waits for the first of two consolation matches so tired his bones ache. But Mock doesn’t quit. He’s a fighter. Not one person in the arena could last with Mock for seven minutes. Not even Azevedo would be that lucky again.
“It didn’t occur to me that you could beat me,” Mock says. “And if you did beat me, I was going to find a way to beat you. That was just my mentality.”
Prior to Mock’s first match, his condition worsens. His body tries to recover from the pounding it took. But before Mock wrestles again he rushes to a bathroom. He’s in a dire situation but Mock was left no choice. In a restroom stall, Mock rips some toilet paper off the roll.
“I had to go out for the last two matches, and I had to stuff toilet paper up …,” Mock pauses, “… my butt. When you get into nationals at the end of the year and you’re going for third and you’re wrestling nine matches in a couple of days, you’re going to be banged up and you’re not going to be able to control certain aspects of your body. It just happens.”
Mock slips past his first opponent, leaving only one left. Inside his shoes, his toes are like rubber. This is when all his training pays off.
To love to win is easy; to love the battle, the preparation and the sacrifice is where “toughness” is born.
The balls of Mock’s feet rotate on mat’s forgiving surface for his final match. The two men jostle for position. Time passes, as it does in almost every college match, without a point. But Mock changes that when he records a takedown and then he capitalizes further. Reaching around, he makes a pretzel of his opponent in a move called a cradle. Once Mock locks his hands, he knows it’s over. Mock never breaks grip.
Looking through the crowd, Mock sees his friend holding a camera. And the next shot would be a signature C.D. Mock cradle.
“I had him in this cradle and I’m on the side and I’m looking like this,” Mock says, tilting his head as if to pose all over again. “I see him and he’s pointing the camera at me and I smiled and winked and he got a picture of it.”
It’s his photo finish, except unlike typical ones, this race isn’t even close. To win, Mock doesn’t even try for a pin, he just holds that pose, like a statue — or a dead man in full rigor.
Mastering oneself is infinitely more valuable than trophies and medals.
Later that evening, Mock lies on his hotel bed with a battered body while the rest of his team celebrates in the adjacent room. Hours before, Mock could seal a broken dam with his grip, but now he can only lift his head off his pillow.
All Mock heard while climbing the ranks was that he started wrestling too late. For now, Mock is content with third place, but lying in bed, he gets hungry, and nothing short of a championship will satisfy him. So Mock visualizes. His psyche is the strongest part of his body; at this point, it’s the only thing that still works.
“I made a commitment after I placed third that I would not take a day off,” Mock said. “I would do something to train every single day, until I won.”
Mock was always driven. He spent his last two years at UNC fixated on that single goal. Coach Bill Lam loved that mental toughness. But despite Mock’s success, he wasn’t always an elite wrestler. He started out as something entirely different.
During junior high school in Newton, Pa., Mock spent his time on a different mat. He was a gymnast, and because of that, he was built like a wrestler. When some of Mock’s high school friends encouraged him to try out for the wrestling team, he uncovered a passion.
Not long into his first year, it was obvious that Mock was gifted with an innate “mat-sense” and a killer’s mentality. Not many beginners grew as a wrestler like he did; then again, few started as late.
While other kids spent their youth playing catch, Mock played catch-up. In the mornings Mock forfeited the bus ride and ran the four-and-a-half miles to school instead. Within a few years he was making headway. As a junior, Mock advanced all the way to the state playoffs before losing.
That summer, Mock worked as a counselor at a wrestling camp where he impressed Shorty Hitchcock, a Pennsylvania wrestling relic.
Hitchcock was also an assistant coach at North Carolina and upon returning, he urged Lam to recruit Mock while no other big schools knew about his talents.
It’s all about the training, not the outcome.
Lam flew from North Carolina to watch Mock, then a senior, in the district playoffs. And one night, Mock invited Lam to go on a run.
“It was like a six-mile run,” he said. “It was a normal run for me back then. I felt like I had a lot of room to make up, and I worked my tail off. That was my mentality, and coincidentally, I didn’t know this, but that was Bill Lam’s mentality.”
By the time Lam watched Mock plow through districts, he was confident he wanted the senior to do the same in Chapel Hill despite not seeing Mock in the more competitive regional and state tournaments. The night after districts, Lam brought Mock and his family together for his decision.
“I’m going to make this easy for you,” Mock remembers Lam saying. “I’m going to take all the pressure away. You want to come to North Carolina? Here’s the offer. You don’t have to even tell me. It’s there for you. You have no pressure. If you don’t win another match, I still want you at North Carolina.”
But Mock did win again. He won the state championship, and after that, all the big Pennsylvania wrestling schools came out of the woodwork. Almost every one offered Mock a scholarship, but his father reminded him that Lam believed in him before he was a state champion.
Mock followed his father’s advice and enrolled at UNC, where he grew even more driven toward success.
After finishing third nationally as a sophomore and placing outside the top eight as a junior, Mock redshirted as part of Lam’s master plan to load his 1982 roster with experience for an all-or-nothing NCAA Tournament run. But for Mock, it wasn’t time off. It was an extra year to train for his next visit to the NCAA championships.
Back for more
A young man stands alone in a large, dim arena in 1982. Drops of sweat cut the cool air and trickle down his forehead. Thousands surround him, waiting with suffocated anticipation. They encase him.
Usually in these moments, he paces impatiently, but Mock is calm and still; motionless like cold steel.
Embrace fear and it will become your cohort.
In the stands a father sees his son, who typically paces before the match, motionless on the side. Unsure of Mock’s current mentality, he races down the bleachers and clutches Mock’s arms.
“You’re not right,” he says. Mock looks at his father — the man whose constant instruction had manifested Mock’s serenity.
“Dad, go up and enjoy the show, man,” Mock says. “It’s all done.”
Awaiting the start of the match, Mock’s mind rattles with affirmations similar to his favorite Muhammad Ali quote: “To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are.”
Your opponent’s greatest advantage is your lack of belief.
Mock steps onto the mat to shakes hands with Bloomsburg University’s Don Reese. The rest is a blur.
All he remembers is that he won. The 134-pound workhorse smiles with exhaustion, and a tremendous feeling of accomplishment fills him.
“We knew he was going to do it because he had stated that he was going to do it,” Mock’s wife Mickie said. “There was no doubt in his mind whatsoever.”
But Mock’s individual victory paled in comparison to his team’s. That year, UNC’s wrestling team finished fifth in the nation.
“I mean, what we did as a team was unheard of,” Mock said. “It was always Iowa, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State … And then everybody else after them. So from my perspective, we won nationals. We won nationals with a rag-tag group of guys that weren’t recruited by any of the big-time places.”
After school he moved back to Pennsylvania, but UNC would call on its trusted son once again. Mock came back to be an assistant coach and was offered Lam’s vacant head coaching position in 2002. Mock hasn’t always had the success as a coach that he did as a player, at least not lately.
Sitting in the corner
Mock found almost instant success, coaching some of his first recruits at UNC to two straight ACC titles and won ACC Coach of the Year in 2005 and 2006. He was excelling, but only in a mediocre conference.
Since 2006, the ACC has become the third-best wrestling conference in the country, and North Carolina has struggled to keep up. When Mock wrestled, he stepped onto the mat every time knowing he would win, because he had worked harder. But his wrestlers haven’t always trained like he did, and that kills Mock.
“No one can dictate your attitude,” he said. “I can tell you what your attitude should be and what you need to do to get that specific attitude, but only you can do that. And, man, it’s frustrating. It’s very frustrating.”
Mock’s teams struggled to buy into his philosophy. His mentality demanded too much. When Mock noticed his team falling behind, he knew it needed to catch up.
But in the summer of 2009, Mock found himself in a dark place, facing what he considered coaching mistakes. Utterly disappointed with UNC’s performance, Mock began to question himself.
Wrestling is a journey.
Mock returned to UNC last fall with a renewed attitude.
He had a grasp of where his team was, where he wanted to take them and how to get there. But the climb back started with another slide.
Last season, UNC experienced a flurry of injuries and turned in a 7-8-1 record. But Mock takes it a step farther. The forthright coach said that his team hit rock-bottom.
“I don’t feel like we can go any lower than we are,” Mock said. “I’m not happy we’re there, but it’s a good place to be, because there’s nowhere to go but up. I feel like I’m back where I was when I was competing. Nobody believes that we are going to be able to do what I believe we are going to be able to accomplish.”
But Mock is careful what he promises from his team. In the past, predictions spilled from Mock’s mouth like candy from a piñata.
“I remember when I got here Mock predicted we would have five All-Americans with Drew Forshey, Vincent Ramirez, Justin Dobies,” senior 149-pounder Nick Stabile said. “We had a bunch of guys ranked, not in the top-10 but in the top-20 (nationally), and not one of them All-American.”
Mock has always displayed confidence. He did it as a wrestler when he announced to whomever would listen that he would win nationals. But Mock realizes now he can’t do it all himself. No matter how frustrating at times, Mock will always be in the corner, never on the mat.
“I am not going to make predictions, just because I found out the hard way that that gets you into trouble,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean Mock won’t gamble on his wrestlers.
“He’s like (Louisiana State football coach) Les Miles,” senior Thomas Scotton said. “He takes a lot of risks, you know, with a lot of rewards. I think he’s definitely putting the ownership on us.”
It’s a simple thought, but a powerful one: Let them control their destiny on the mat. And with Scotton, it’s clear he’s already started. Halfway through his response to a question about Mock’s confidence, the 165-pounder slips into a Mock-esque mindset when discussing this season.
“I know we’ll have a good year as far as the team,” Scotton said. “In practice, we’re all working toward being national champions. Of course, everybody can’t be one, but we’re working toward that. We’re all shooting to be national champs, and if it doesn’t happen, hey, maybe we’re All-Americans.”
If Mock had only heard those words from his senior’s mouth. But maybe it’s better that he didn’t, better for Scotton to prove it.
Failure is not an option.
Mock knows UNC will get better. He says his team will improve and he plans to personally lead it there. But while sitting in his office and trying to explain how he knows it, he can’t find the words. The coach is speechless. Time passes and the encroaching doubt circulating Mock grows. But then, he looks up from his desk, renewed and energetic. In the coach’s stead, the fighter emerges and gives the only answer he knows.
“I think I’m best when everybody has given up on me.”
There’s no reason to doubt him now. Mock has been playing catch-up his whole life.
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